Aug 08 2011

@2011s My Framework: Teaching As … Teaching

I am writing this post as a favor to the 2011 CMs.  It is not your fault that TFA can justify to themselves that a few hours of student teaching experience with class sizes of 15 or less makes you ready to handle the responsibility of teaching the kids who need highly trained teachers the most.

I’m doing this because I want you (2011 CMs) to be successful, even though a small part of me does want TFA (the organization) to fail.  This might seem paradoxical.  Really, I don’t want TFA to fail.  I want them to improve.  Unfortunately, unless they admit that they have failed, they will not improve.  This is what it is like to be inside my brain.

When I hear the TFA quit rate has increased, I feel a little happy since at that moment I’m not thinking of the thousands of students who had to suffer through an ineffective teacher, I’m thinking of the tens of thousands who might, in the future, get to have a more effective teacher.

Anyway, I just want them to do a better job and to stop lying to the CMs, the media, and to themselves about their inflated success and to work on improving so the students can get a good learning experience.

The TAL (Teaching As Leadership) framework is something that was supposedly developed over 20 years of refining their training model.  I can tell you (and have in my big critique of it) that it is junk which will actually make CMs less effective.

The TAL has six guiding principles:

1)  Set Big Goals

2)  Invest Students And Their Families

3) Plan Purposefully

4)  Execute Effectively

5)  Continuously Increase Effectiveness

6)  Work Relentlessly

So, here I’ll make a short explanation of my TAT (Teaching As Teaching) model.

Here are the TAT princples:

1)  Set Small Goals — Teaching over your students heads is a sure way to make them feel like they are not ever going to learn anything from you.  The best teachers know where a realistic place to set the bar is, and then to try to get the kids to get over a bar that is slightly higher.

2)  Spend About Five Minutes In Class Investing Students — More than that, kids eyes just glaze over and they start practicing not listening to you.  The best way to get them excited about learning from you is to actually teach them something manageable (See #1) and show them that they have succeeded at it.

3)  Plan — I don’t really know if the ‘purposefully’ is necessary (or even a real word).  What other kind of planning is there?  This is really not a very profound principle for the TAT or the TAL framework.  You’ve got to plan.  It takes a long time to plan something that has a high percent chance of working.  Hopefully, you will save your energy for planning by minimizing the amount of energy TAL suggests you use for their principles #1, #2, and #6.

4)  Execute Effectively — You didn’t get a lot of opportunity to practice, so this one will be tough.  Books about the details of teaching like ‘Teach Like A Champion’ or my second book ‘Beyond Survival’ will give you good things to think about to compensate for this.

5)  Continually Increase Effectiveness — Again, your lack of student teaching shows how much TFA really values this principle.  But, yes, you want to celebrate your successes (as TFA the organization does), but more importantly, acknowledge your failures so you can prevent them from happening again (as TFA the organization does not know how to do).

6)  Work Moderately — You might think that if career teaching is a marathon, two years is a 100 meter dash, so you can just go ‘all out’ from the gates.  The truth is that two years is more like a one mile run.  You cannot maintain a full sprint for that long.  If you burn yourself out, you will not have the energy to teach your classes effectively, which will make them misbehave, which will take more energy from you, which will make you even less effective …

Good luck to all the 2011 CMs.  I hope you accept the responsibility you’ve been given to care for children who really deserve well-trained teachers more seriously than TFA has accepted the responsibility of developing a training model which would promote that.

Here’s a link to some of my blog posts with more specific advice about teaching.

11 Responses

  1. Ms. D

    Thank you for this. I am 2007 alumni, about to begin my 5th year in an elementary classroom (well not until October when I’m off maternity leave). This past year (the 4th year teaching) was the first time I was genuinely effective. I particularly love your advice to work moderately. Since I plan to stay in the classroom as a lifelong career it is so important to not burn out.

  2. Phil I.P.C.

    I want to thank you for this as well, Gary. My Institute experience went very well (in terms of being in the classroom) and a lot of that came from listening to my summer mentor teacher far more than my CMA. I know there’s going to be a lot to learn going into my class in a couple of weeks (especially since I’m special ed and TFA did not provide any support in any way).

    An observation I had about Institute that I think would be worth considering, if you have not already, is this: the only truly successful teachers at Institute, as well as the only teachers who had any pretense of remaining as teachers past the two year commitment (besides myself apparently) were teachers who were traditionally certified.

    This made me wonder what percent of TFA alumni who stay in the classroom and who qualify as effective teachers already have that traditional certification under their belt before joining the corps. If it’s a substantial number, that would be even more indicative of the inefficacy of TFA’s training. Based on my very limited sample it was certainly true.

  3. This is important stuff.

    Definitely, the buy-in comes when kids and their families see that you’re effective. I can spend all day telling kids that I love them and want them to learn, or I can teach them something. The latter works better.

    I would add:

    1. Stop relentlessness for a moment and reflect on what you’re doing. It’s way to easy to get bogged down in minutiae and forget the bigger picture – or, worse, keep making the same tiny mistake that causes giant drama.

    2. Plan big and plan extra. Too many of the TFAers spend hours writing a fifty-minute lesson plan. I suppose this could work if you’re not teaching a self-contained class, but if you are, once that lesson’s over you have over five hours to go. Map out your whole day/week and make sure you have ready-to-go time fillers.

    3. If they give you a manual, use it. Even if you don’t think it’s the best. Even if the scripts are silly. You don’t have to go word-for-word, but use the tools you have. Most anything is better than a first year teacher burnt out from writing his or her own curriculum. When I was in TFA, it was really popular to get CMs to do this. It left them burnt out and sometimes in trouble with their administrators, and without fail the students would’ve learned more with the mediocre curriculum.

    4. Make friends with the lifers (if any) at your school. You may have heard that we hate you and we show movies all day. Neither of these things are true. Besides, if you fail it destabilizes the school for everybody, so we’re motivated to help you. But we’re busy too, so make sure to ask for what you need instead of assuming we’ll remember you.

  4. Ben Guest

    Great stuff Gary.

  5. B

    Your #1 is great. So true.

    A lot of the best teachers that I’ve seen are not the “rock stars.”

  6. Haha, great post again Gary!

    I spoke at the Save Our Schools Conference in Washington DC last month on a panel about reforming TFA (I focused mostly on my personal horrific TFA experience in Detroit as well as offering some suggestions for how TFA could improve Institute training) and it’s always refreshing to read your blog posts on the subject.

    I’m glad to hear TFA’s quit rate is increasing and certainly not at all surprised by that fact. The drop-out percentage was definitely significant in the 2010 Detroit Corps that I was a part of…

    I’m not only sad for students who get under-prepared, barely and often incorrectly trained (albeit usually well-meaning and very hard-working) TFA Corps members as teachers, but I’m also sad for those many Corps members who are completely misled and barely supported by TFA, who are inadequately trained (and often trained for grade levels/subjects they won’t be teaching during the school year) who have their sincere desire to please and to achieve and to make a difference get preyed upon by TFA, and who then get thrown to the wolves in many cases – those Corps members who end up being hospitalized because of stress/exhaustion, or who get threatened/attacked by students, or who are demeaned by school administrators, or who end up on anti-depressants or with PTSD during/after their time with TFA…those Corps member stories (of which there are many) make me very sad as well…

    Hopefully more ex-Corps members who have had horrific experiences in the program will start standing up and speaking out about their awful time with TFA…

  7. Catherine Gaither

    As a parent of a TFA member the problem is TFA and the district, neither communicates with the other or with the members. Alot of lies and useless meetings.

    • candidelabelle

      You just summed up the experience!! Thank you!! Useless meetings like Pro-sat and ICE Groups!! How about using all that wasted time for content support??

  8. Barbara Torre Veltri

    So true. In addition to the preparation that’s lacking & generic in scope… one size fits all so misleads corps who are placed in Special Education.

    Parents are also supporting their children, financially or so many.

  9. I got really behind with my blog reading with school starting and am just catching up now… sorry to come so late to the conversation, but I love this post. Your TAT principles are word-for-word what my principles would be if I wrote them down.

    Part of that is because of your blog, too. Early in my second year, I read that post you wrote about NOT making a huge big goal speech, and a huge lightbulb went off in my head. My PD asked me later about presenting my big goal to my kids, and I responded with something like, “Well, actually I just read something explaining what a terrible idea that is” and then pretty much repeated your post to her. She left me alone after that :-)

  10. 2010 Delta CM

    My most effective days this year are the ones where I give a 10 minute (maximum) lesson and pass out a worksheet. Kids love worksheets, it keeps them quiet, and working. That gives me the opportunity to walk around and give effective micro-lessons for the kids who are struggling with the concepts covered in the 10 minute lesson. I’ve also learned that having an extra packet of meaningful lessons handy for those self-directed students who finish the worksheet before I’ve finished the 10 minute lesson. This year is going soooo much better.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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